By Mohammed Adamu
AFTER President Buhari made his beautiful inaugural address in which he deployed an excellent oxymoron to formally dedicate himself to the selfless ideal of belonging to “everybody” and to “nobody”, I did a celebratory piece titled ‘On That Buhari Speech’. In it I said that after that salutary debut, I’d hope we had now “come to the age of enlightened inspirational speeches; (as in) persuasive speeches that touch the heart, the mind and the soul of the citizen-audience”. I was excited that with that Buhari magnum opus, we had, at last, “come off the clangor and cacophony of statistics-laden speeches and (were) now launched into the solemnity of the field of rhetorical metaphors –or should we say metaphorical rhetoric?”
I said that, that remark “I belong to everybody, I belong to nobody” was an excellent “species of the American-style of speechmaking by ‘figurative antithesis’ -or what others would say ‘contrapuntal turnarounds”. It was as inspiring as Kennedy’s “ask not what your country can do for you, (but) ask what you can do for your country’”; even as it was no less fascinating “than Daniel Boorstin’s paradoxes of toleration when he advised politicians to “disagree without being disagreeable” and to “dissent without dissension”.
Figurative speeches, we know have a tendency to rekindle hope where there is none; and in fact that Buhari’s inaugural address particularly was a veritable tap on the scraggy shoulders of national despondency, to announce to despairing citizens that this was now a President (Buhari) for all; and not one for ‘special interest. And this is notwithstanding the many baseless allegations of ethno-religious and geo-political bias that have continued to dog the heels of virtually every appointment that Buhari makes.
Alas, as rated as Buhari’s Inaugural Address was, and as much hope that it had raised that such would thenceforth be the norm and not the exception, it remains, till today, his best -ever. Our hope that more of such presidential outings would, by now, have bade bye-bye to our tradition of ‘bureaucratic speeches’, was dashed nor sooner than it was raised. My recent passionate defense of Buhari’s last after-London State broadcast was not to prove that it had ‘verse’ or that it had ‘metre’. It lacked both. Nor was it to prove that it was ‘figurative’ or that it had salutary ‘metaphor’. I had written my last piece to defend Buhari’s State broadcast against the charge that it was too ‘short’ -which I thought was lame- and that it had no ‘depth’, -which was untrue!
Osinbajo’s to the rescue
But even as Buhari’s Inaugural Address seems to be his best ever, it appears that it will not be the only great speech to come from the Buhari government half way now into its checkered first term. Because Vice President Osinbajo’s Eid-el-Kabir lunch remarks at the Banquet Hall of the Presidential Villa, was indeed another excellent one since that inaugural address by his principal. That is if it has not bettered Buhari’s best. Osinbajo’s remark had all the qualities of a great speech: it has ‘metre’ and it has ‘verse’; it has its own unique ‘figurativeness’ and its own blend of ‘metaphor; plus it is rhetorical without necessarily exerting itself to be so; -and, with ‘sacrifice’ as one of its major themes, it was pleasantly auspicious for the occasion: from its prophetic “This is a nation that will show forth in culture, in technology and in commerce”, to its divinely-descriptive notion of Nigeria as “God’s investment in the black race”. And from its emphatic “Our manifest destiny is to be a great nation”, to its divinely predictive “great nation that God is about to give birth to”.
Besides, in the tone of its presentation, Osinbajo’s Eid-remarks -brief as it was- has met that expert description of the ‘great speech’ as one which is marked by the profoundness of the ideal by which it stands, the modesty of its size and the humility of its delivery. It had deployed virtually all the devices and effects that especially great speeches by American presidents are known for. It is at once an appeal to the ‘spiritual’ and ‘temporal’ realms as it is a solemn invocation of the ‘divine’ and the ‘earthly’. Two very powerful metaphors used by Osinbajo were those of ‘birth’ with the promise of ‘bringing forth’ life and ‘noise’ which as an inevitable –often necessary- palliative for the pangs and the agonies of delivery:
All that “noise” he said “is part of the building…. “What we are hearing today are the noises and the pains of that great nation that God is about to give birth to… This is the type of country God has ordained. Where we have diversity of opinions, diversity of ideas…People saying their own things here and there. You cannot have birth without noise. No woman delivers a baby without some noise and without some pains.”
And to quote copiously from my previous title on Buhari’s Inaugural address, “Speeches by figures’ or ‘figurative speeches’ have been known all through history as the veritable spices and condiments especially of political communication. Great speeches in history feeding on legions of figurative devices had incited people to anarchy and nations to wars; even as they had also helped to sheath the swords and to restore peace to warring nations.
Where the great writer Thomas Paine was credited with inspiring the soldiers of the American war of independence not to lose their mettle on the battle field, it took the figurative words of a thirty-eight-year old self-taught lawyer, Patrick Henry to ignite the American Revolution. In open rejection of British Colonialism, Henry had said at a local Virginia Church: “Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty, or give me death”. This was just enough to ignite the fire of martyrdom required to execute the revolution.
And to inspire patriotism and esprit de corps in America’s future leaders, General Douglas MacArthur in his speech to the West Point Cadets, not only invoked the virtues of “Duty, Honor, Country”, he educed the element of shared fate and personal camaraderie when he threw the triple-repetitive: “my last conscious thoughts will be of the corps, and the corps, and the corps”.
Osinbajo’s closure drew heavily again from the divine. It located ‘sacrifice’ as the fundamental virtue that lies at the heart of the Eid-el Kabir celebration –Abraham’s readiness, in deference to the divine will, to sacrifice his only son. This Osinbajo said is what underlies the duty of every citizen, ‘sacrifice’ which he said is “necessary to attain the destiny that God has brought onto our people”. And so as Douglas MacArthur’s device was alliterative, emphasizing “the corps, and the corps, and the corps”, Osinbajo’s was definitive, preaching only ‘sacrifice’.
AT the peak of the ‘zoning’ debate in July 2010, I wrote a piece ‘Zoning: an Open memo to Northern Governors’. I was hoping, in it, to persuade northern PDP state governors to take a patriotic stand on the controversial subject of zoning. And what readily came to mind as preamble to that piece –since I was hoping to persuade via the written word- was the rhetorical style of Thomas Paine; – that Anglo-American Political Philosopher credited with the fiery collection of ‘Crisis’ and ‘conscience’ ‘Papers’ that gave character to 18th Century’s unique genre of Enlightenment Writing.
The narrative dated back to ‘the peak of the American War of Independence, when ‘steed was threatening steed,’ and when the daredevilry of American freedom-fighters was so much on the wane that otherwise gallant men were contemplating retreat or even a humiliating surrender to the superior fire-power of imperial British forces.
It was then that Thomas Paine was said to have released the famous ‘Crisis Paper’, a motivational pamphlet read at the battle field to cowardly soldiers on the verge of disavowal of manliness. The pamphlet contained a patriotic appeal to duty and honour, calling, in the most inspiring tone possible, to soldierly martyrdom as a fate more honourable than retreat or surrender. And it worked! Historians said that this was a critical game-changer that inspired the American Colony to victory over its British overlords.
One of Thomas Paine’s famous lines in that ‘speech’ read thus: “These are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman.” Victory was achieved more by grit inspired by ‘word’ than by the sheer mettle of military fire power.
And as Thomas Paine was author of the two famous pamphlets ‘The Age of Reason’ and ‘Common Sense’, so was the age of ‘enlightenment writing’ -which he symbolised- punctuated by ‘reason’ and by ‘common sense’. But the age of ‘enlightenment writing’ in America was also the age of ‘metaphors’; it was the era of ‘figure of speech’, or ‘speech by figures’. After the bug of figurative and inspirational speeches finally had a firm grip of the newly independent America, the heavens did blaze forth the birth of great speeches: And from George Washington to Barack Obama continued to issue written and extempore speeches that inspire as well as illicit other passions in men. From Kennedy’s “never fear to negotiate, but never negotiate out of fear”; to presidential candidate Adlai Stevenson’s “patriotism is not the fear of something; it is the love of something.”
There was also Republican Barry Goldwater’s igniting of the Conservative Movement in his famous appositely-opposing morale that as “extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice… moderation (too) in the pursuit of justice (should be) no virtue”. And then President Harry Truman’s moral riposte about ‘standing for people’ and not ‘standing for special interests’.
This week’s Postscript is excised from the piece ‘On That Buhari Speech’.
Re: The stuff that speeches are made
Online:- “As usual my friend you put forth your perspective in effervescent style. Yet not all who criticise the President’s speech wished he had read his resignation letter or morbid details of his ailment instead.
As you said so plainly, brevity is brilliance in speech when the moment is dire. Still, that speech fell short of the occasion. And I am not talking of length. Yes, brevity is the soul of wit, but it had neither (soul or wit, that is). And that is part of the quarrel. Some of us didn’t expect a long speech; but that speech could have benefitted from better writing. Our President is possibly the most beloved leader this nation has ever had, and he didn’t get that way by chance. Something about him reach to the core of honest thriving Nigerians. We expected a speech that will touch that core.
As you noted, Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address was some 270 words, by what dynamite!. Nearly every sentence was a gem. Such fantastic rhetorical as “we cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow this ground” or the even more famous “government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth”, populate the piece”. Wonderful use of devices like contrasts and repetition (“The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here”), make the speech so unforgettable that at Lincoln’s graveside, Senator Charles Sumner said, “The battle itself was less important than the speech.
Our President has a different style, we know that. But that speech was drab and did not do the great man justice.”